Former Bellator featherweight champion AJ McKee recently decided to re-sign with Bellator, rather than testing free agency in organizations such as the UFC, ONE, PFL, or Rizin.
His reason for staying in his homegrown promotion was simple, he fancies the one-million dollar prize for the tournament winner.
McKee recently went onto Ariel Helwani’s MMA hour, where he stated the following in regards to remaining a Bellator talent:
“There’s another million dollars at stake. There’s another million dollars (in) the 155-pound division and I’ve been kind of getting my feet wet in it a little bit. So they came with an offer that I just couldn’t refuse.
“I kind of was given the opportunity to go and talk (to other promotions) a little bit and see. So, I don’t know, once I did that and then I came back, I was like, ‘Look, there’s some people that are interested,’ and they were like, ‘You know what? We’re going to make this work,’ and we sat down; we sat down, the team and I, and figured it out.
“I think just strategically it makes sense if I say. I’m homegrown with Bellator, I’ve been raised there, my entire career has been there. So I’m not going to go anywhere unless I have to, you know what I mean? It’s no secret that (other promotions are) writing bigger checks than the UFC, so it’s like, what’s the point? For the fame? Fame don’t pay bills.
“I’m kind of a mix of both, you know what I mean? Especially when I began to fight out (my contract) and I was on my way out, and then coming full circle to where now it’s like, alright, we got that close. So it’s like any game, you’ve got to have some moves up your sleeve. But yeah, for me, I’m happy where I’m at. I’ve been intrigued with this 55-pound (155 lbs) tournament, especially being (new) in the division. So new weight class, new kingdom, new territory, and that’s what I’m looking forward to is taking over that division.”
AJ McKee won Bellator’s featherweight tournament in July of 2021, where he became the first, and to this day the only man to finish perhaps the greatest fighter in promotional history Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Freire. McKee nearly KO’d Freire with a head kick before sinking in a guillotine choke to submit the BJJ black belt in just under two minutes to claim the Bellator featherweight championship.
They’d have an immediate rematch in April of 2022, where he ultimately lost the unanimous decision, along with his belt.
Though the outcome was disputed, McKee decided to move up to the lightweight division following the first and only defeat of his career, rather than calling for a trilogy bout with the Brazilian multi-time champion.
McKee since gone 2-0 at 155 lbs, defeating the likes of UFC veteran Spike Carlyle (14-3), who was on a five-fight finish streak coming in, and then Rizin lightweight champion Roberto de Souza (14-1) at Bellator MMA vs Rizin’s New Years event, improving his record to 20-1 in the process.
It’s unknown who McKee’s first opponent in the lightweight gran prix will be, though there have been two fights scheduled thus far:
Usman Nurmagomedov (16-0) aims to defend his Bellator lightweight title against former WEC & UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson (30-11), and former Rizin lightweight champion Tofiq Musayev (20-4) will face Alexander Shabliy (22-3).
Who would you like to see AJ McKee face in the first round of Bellator’s newly announced lightweight gran prix?
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